Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

Small group of Chinese relatives are not giving up

Madam Dai Shuqin (in black) and other relatives of flight MH370 passengers protesting on Wednesday at a monthly meeting with a Malaysia Airlines representative, one day after the official search for the plane was suspended.
Madam Dai Shuqin (in black) and other relatives of flight MH370 passengers protesting on Wednesday at a monthly meeting with a Malaysia Airlines representative, one day after the official search for the plane was suspended.ST PHOTO: CHONG KOH PING

They keep up daily protests, insisting MH370 passengers are alive and being held hostage

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing almost three years ago, but some loved ones of the missing Chinese passengers have not given up hope.

A small group of relatives, ranging from three to 10 people, still show up daily on weekdays at the airline's office in Sanlitun in central Beijing to demand that MAS help them get their kin back. They believe that their family members are being held hostage somewhere.

Even after the governments of Australia, Malaysia and China jointly declared the suspension of a nearly three-year search for the aircraft on Tuesday, the relatives are still not giving up. On Thursday, two days after the announcement, at least two of them were at the MAS office as usual.

Retired farmer Zhang Yongli, 66, who has been travelling at least 90km daily from his home in the suburbs, told The Sunday Times with agitation: "They've got to tell me what has happened to the plane and the people!"

Mr Zhang's daughter Zhang Qi, 31, was returning to Beijing on the ill-fated flight, after a work trip for a steel company. "My daughter is still alive and she's being held somewhere," he said.

UNDETERRED

If they could show us the bodies, we could accept that an accident has indeed happened. But there's nothing. So I don't care if there's a snowstorm or a thunderstorm, I will not give up in coming here to exert pressure on them.

MADAM DAI SHUQIN, whose younger sister Shuling was on the flight with four other family members.

Like Mr Zhang, Madam Dai Shuqin, 63, has kept up her visits to the MAS office, believing that her younger sister Shuling, who was on the flight with four other family members, is still alive. News of the cancelled search has not deterred her either.

"If they could show us the bodies, we could accept that an accident has indeed happened," said Madam Dai, a widow with a 35-year-old daughter. "But there's nothing. So I don't care if there's a snowstorm or a thunderstorm, I will not give up in coming here to exert pressure on them."

Normally, no one at the office will see them. Still, the family members submit a handwritten letter each day with the same request: the release of their missing relatives.

Flight MH370 vanished shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014 with 239 passengers on board, including 153 Chinese nationals.

The A$200 million (S$215 million) search for the plane was extended twice. It covered 120,000 sq km of the southern Indian Ocean, as the Boeing 777 was reported to have turned back over peninsular Malaysia before heading south.

Mr Zhang said he knew that the search would eventually be stopped. The Chinese Ministry of Transport had told relatives there was a 99 per cent chance that the plane was not in the southern Indian Ocean.

He said: "They wanted me to take the compensation. I can't accept that. There's no concrete outcome, how can I just take the money and accept that my daughter is not coming back?"

According to media reports, MAS offered the Chinese passengers' families compensation of 2.52 million yuan (S$523,000) for each victim. The airline said 42 families have accepted its compensation package.

Besides the MAS office, family members go to the Ministry of Transport, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Malaysian Embassy to register their unhappiness.

Mr Zhang said the number of relatives showing up has dwindled.

"Some have to work, and some live too far away, in other provinces - they can't afford the travel expenses," he said. "Some simply take to this quite differently - those whose spouses and parents were on board, compared with people like us whose children were on board."

But Madam Dai, who went to the MAS office on a day when Beijing was under an alert for strong winds, said: "No matter how thick the smog, how heavy the rain or how strong the wind, I will continue to come here every day."

That afternoon, Madam Dai and Mr Zhang had gone to the Boeing office with a few other family members. On Friday, they met officials at the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

"It's been three years. But this is my sister. I can't give up," she said.

"Honestly, I'm not interested in the search. This is just a delay tactic. The passengers are still alive. Some of the relatives told us that the mobile phones still incur charges for international calls. If the plane had dropped into the ocean, how can the phones still work?"

Madam Dai said she was partly driven to continue her quest for the sake of her late mother.

"I'm helping her get her daughter back," she said, starting to sob. "I'm just an old lady, so I don't care how badly they treat me... I will fight on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 22, 2017, with the headline 'Small group of Chinese relatives are not giving up'. Print Edition | Subscribe